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February 2011
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April 2011

Life Lessons from a High School Basketball Game

It had been raining for days in Los Angeles.  On one such afternoon, when the rain took a breath, I looked out my kitchen window and saw something you don't see very often.  A red balloon.  A red balloon that hovered mid-air as it's white string tapped hopefully on the patio cement.  A red balloon that had survived the storm.  Red balloonHow did it wander into my yard?  Did it feel safer there?  Was it hiding under my olive tree, hoping the storm wouldn't find it there?

For me it created a sense of wonder which I sort of think red balloons were put on this earth to do, to create in us a sense of wonder, of what's possible. 

So, I've been noodling that around for a few days. 

And, then last night I went to my nephew's basketball game.  Kirk's team, Walled Lake Northern, played cross-town rival Lakeland for a spot in the District Championship.  It's been a couple of decades since I've been to a high school basketball game; my nephew lives 3000 miles away and I usually visit during the holiday or summer.  So, it was kind of nostalgically thrilling to be there, not only because I was going to finally see him do something he loves and is really good at, but also because it reminded me of why I used to love high school sports and also why I love sports movies.

It seemed to me that there were red balloons all over the ceiling, flying out of the air vents and bobbing along the stands among the passionate we-have-to-win-this-game-or-we'll-die fans.  Okay, there wasn't really a red balloon in sight, but the room was buzzing with possibility.  And, in that span of about 90 minutes, emotions ran the gamut of a full lifetime, from the birth of the opening jump shot to the final buzzer which meant death on one end of the court and another birth on the other end.  And, in between, I couldn't help but think of the many life lessons that were stuffed into a time warp of those four quarters.

  • Play well with others - it seems obvious but nevertheless it's a good daily reminder
  • Don't hog the ball or the glory - giving credit where credit is due establishes you as not only a team player, but as a leader
  • Slow down and assess before jumping into action - if you don't you may miss the mark
  • Listen to your advisors and coaches - don't be intimidated to ask for help
  • Trust your training and knowledge - allow your instincts to guide you

The best plays of the game were those between team members where they appeared to be connected by an invisible rope. They happened quickly and could only happen with good training followed by cohesive instinct. 

  • Learn from defeat - take the time to reflect on what you can glean from the experience before you move on

It can all come crashing in a matter of seconds as it did in this smashing game. 

The game was virtually tied all throughout.  Lakeland was supposed to win as they had the last two times the teams met.  So, the fact that Northern kept it neck and neck added to the excitement, added a few more red balloons to the room.  It came down to the last 12 seconds of the game.  Lakeland was up by two after a quick series of fouls and free throw shots, and they had already started to celebrate.  After a breath-holding timeout, Northern had the ball.  Kirk started the play and began the perfect set-up for the perfect play.  His best friend, Jared, had the ball with 2 seconds to go.  He swooshed an ideal 3-pointer to win the game.  Instant celebrity. 

Also in that instant, Lakeland went from scraping the ceiling to puddling the floor.  Faces were stunned, mouths agape, for several moments.  But, then as the elated Northern Knights rejoiced, they handled their defeat gracefully, congratulating the winners and then headed back into the locker room, no doubt to a lecture discussing what they learned from their defeat. 

  • Relish in the victories - allow the good feelings to last as long as possible; it's what builds us up to keep moving forward

In those last split seconds red balloons were flying and popping with joy.  It was fascinating how explosively and organically victory and defeat lived side by side and on top of each other in the same room.  It worked.  Life is the same way as the high and low moments flow like a river.

And, lastly,

  • Kiss the spot - recognize and appreciate the small and big milestones along the way.  Those milestones make a life and help to identify the richness of the journey.

The fans and team rallied around Jared after his heroic play.  They placed his name on the floor where he'd made his winning shot and then chanted, "Kiss the spot!  Kiss the spot!"  So Jared obliged and kissed his spot on the floor, his moment in time, his milestone that he most assuredly won't soon forget.

Remember to look for the red balloons.  They're everywhere if you just take time to notice.